What’s in a Label?

Where do you find labels? Hugging soup cans; hanging out on the side of boxes of food; adhering to household cleaning agents; representing recording artists, but that’s not the kind of label I’m referring to. 

What’s the purpose of a label? To explain the ingredients of what’s contained therein. This is good so that you know what you’re putting into your body, at least in the case of food. If you’re ingesting household cleaners, that’s a problem, and there’s a number you can call. But in the case of multi-purpose cleaning agents, the product labels graciously let you know what you’re using to remove stains from fabric or smudges from glass. 

But when do labels have a place otherwise? People don’t walk around with price tags on their foreheads, or calorie counts wrapped around their forearms. The answer to the question: They don’t. 

Words are everything, and when you really think about it, their sole use is a designation. It’s a natural inclination to wonder what something you’ve never encountered before is called- whether it be a concept, something existential, or something tangible, like a coat. 

But with designation also comes restriction. There’s not quite such a thing as an open-ended definition, and even if there were, it’d be unsatisfying because as humans we gravitate towards the linear. We throw descriptions into the confines of a box, and anything that won’t fit cannot be used as part of the definition. Therefore, though labels can be useful, they’re also quite restrictive. Water is called ‘water’ in English, but that’s as far as that word has that meaning. In French, it’s l’eau. In German, it’s das wasser. These kinds of designations are helpful insofar as they identify things. But what’s to be made of the intangible?

Sexuality. Race. Diet. Heredity. It’s all about perception. Labels are used to define these concepts but they’ve also been used to confine them, as well. Someone whose ideals and beliefs are in line with those of feminism is called a feminist. But that word has stirred up a considerable amount of controversy for the misconception that a feminist is a woman who detests men. And to what do we owe that controversy? The label, feminism. Why isn’t it possible for someone to adhere to those morals and not have to identify as a feminist? Without the label, the concept essentially doesn’t exist. It would simply be what somebody believes in, no holds barred. If there’s no name to the face, it’s difficult to imagine that something could be considered wrong or offensive. There’s no such concept until it’s defined. But conceptualization does little more than squeeze ideas and patterns into groups, disparage, and separate. When you separate, you segregate. When you segregate, effectively you quarantine, and quarantine zones are conducive to conflict. 

That man over there wants to marry his boyfriend of nine years, but he can’t, because gay marriage in his state is illegal. Being gay is wrong. But what if he’s not gay? What if- and I know this is a long shot, but bear with me- he’s merely human? He’s fallen in love, and that’s wonderful. Why slap a label onto that? 

And that woman over there is a devout theist. She loves God and wants to devote her life and time to Him. But she can’t do that without being called a bible thumper. Why mark her?

Because of the concept of homosexuality and the label of ‘bible thumper,’ the woman in the second situation is assumed not to be in support of the man in the first. All theists are homophobic. That’s what labeling does- it bridges the gap between individuality and generalization. Try to look at each circumstance as an onion- there are countless layers. They aren’t all the same, solid, hollow block. The same goes for theism, sexuality, vegetarianism, feminism, etc. Ironically, I’m using these designative terms to express my disinterest in them. But if these things weren’t conceptualized, the terminology wouldn’t exist, and my purpose for writing this would be moot.

I call myself this, because it is what I was taught to call this ‘thing,’ this ‘circumstance,’ this ‘condition.’ But the only necessary designation is human, because I think it is safe to say that we all can identify as that. (Unless you can identify as a turtle, in which case always be a turtle.) The rest will become obsolete once we treat people as people, and not as things, or circumstances, or conditions. 

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4 thoughts on “What’s in a Label?

  1. “Without the label, the concept essentially doesn’t exist. It would simply be what somebody believes in, no holds barred. If there’s no name to the face, it’s difficult to imagine that something could be considered wrong or offensive. There’s no such concept until it’s defined.”

    This is the point. You can’t make someONE out to be wrong, only someTHING, and therefore we make someones into somethings.

    Excellent piece.

    1. The line has been blurred between people and things; it is believed that they’re interchangeable. That’s why certain organizations have no qualms against taking innocent lives due to THE WAY those people are living, as not due to the person themselves. But that is another story for another day. So glad you enjoyed it. Thank you. 🙂

      1. This is how war has survived. By pitting one group versus another. These individual men have no hate towards each other.
        But as you said, another story for another day.

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